The world’s most mysterious book is about to be copied for the first time in 600 years
For centuries, the Voynich Manuscript has led some of the most brilliant minds in the world to the brink of madness. It has been called the “world’s most mysterious book,” and everything from its origins to its purpose remain unknown.
That may finally change though, as a Spanish publishing house named Siloe has been granted permission to make exact copies of the manuscript for the first time ever.
There have been a few reproductions of the book over the years, but all are either recreations or photocopies of the original. The plan is to create 898 exact replicas, down to the stains, tiny holes, and rips found in the original. The idea is that researchers will be able to examine the copies as if they were the original, in the hope that someone can finally crack the code. Given that no one has done it in six centuries, every little bit helps.
The manuscript is currently housed in Yale’s Beinecke Library. For decades now, publishers have requested access to the manuscript in order to copy it, but the university refused access. Siloe requested permission to copy the book for over 10 years before Yale finally agreed.
“The Voynich Manuscript has led some of the smartest people down rabbit holes for centuries,” Bill Sherman from the Folger Shakespeare Library said. “I think we need a little disclaimer form you need to sign before you look at the manuscript, that says, ‘Do not blame us if you go crazy.'”
The manuscript has fascinated researchers, conspiracy theorists, and would-be detectives since its creation in the 15th century. The Voynich Manuscript contains several pages of text that don’t correspond with any known language or cipher. It is also filled with bizarre images of unknown plants, strange images of people, and detailed recreations of constellations that don’t match any stars we know
The images are strange enough that some have theorized that aliens are involved. Some of the stranger drawings show women with swelled abdomens, possibly pregnant, immersed in liquid and interacting with tubes and capsules. There is no easy explanation for it.
Even the manuscript’s exact age is mysterious. Early stories claimed it was created by 13th century English magician, Roger Bacon. Carbon dating later placed the book’s origin between 1404 and 1438. That seems to rule out another popular theory claiming that the book was the work of Leonardo da Vinci, but he wasn’t born until 1452.
It popped up now and then throughout history, appearing and disappearing, often without explanation. It didn’t even have a name until 1912, when it was purchased by Lithuanian antiquarian Wilfrid Voynich from a collection that previously belonged to Italian Jesuits.
“It doesn’t match any other language that’s been seen in any other book,” Reed Johnson, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday said back in 2013, when he was writing a book about the Voynich Manuscript. “The drawings often have labels, which would seem to offer a route to deciphering the code. But that hope has proved to be an illusion.”
You can get a look at the manuscript here, but if you want to really research it, you may need the actual replica. Be warned though, the books come with a steep price tag – they run $1,000 a piece. Even at that price they will probably all sell out. Everyone loves a mystery, and this one has gone unsolved for six centuries.